So Philology: to preserve, monitor, investigate, and augment our cultural inheritance, including the various material means by which it has been realized and transmitted. The scholar Aleida Assmann recently said of the philologian’s archive (as opposed to the critic’s and scholar’s canon) that it is populated by materials that “have lost their immediate addresses; they are decontextualized and disconnected from the former frames which had authorized them or determined their meaning. As part of the archive, they are open to new contexts and lend themselves to new interpretations.” So we may arrive at “counter-memories” and “history against the grain.” But in order to lie so open, they must be held at a level of attention that is consciously marked as useless and nonsignificant. There need be no perceived use or exchange value in the philological move to preserve beyond the act of preservation itself. Value is not only beyond present conception, it is understood that it may never again acquire perceived value. “Never again” is crucial. For the philologian, materials are preserved because their simple existence testifies that they once had value, though what that was we may not — may never — know. As the little girl in Wordsworth’s “We are Seven” understood, the dead are precious as such. If we are living human lives, they are not even dead.
Jerome J. McGann, “Memory Now” | 4Humanities